In Germany it should soon be legal to smoke weed. However, consumers will not be able to meet their needs in marijuana shops – as traffic lights initially planned. The project is becoming a bit more complicated due to European legal hurdles – and could still fail.
At first glance, it is a very German regulation that Federal Minister of Health Karl Lauterbach and Federal Minister of Agriculture Cem Özdemir presented to the capital’s press on Wednesday: a promotion of associations. Anyone who wants to legally consume cannabis in the future should obtain their weed (cannabis flowers) or hashish (cannabis resin) as a member of an association that grows the stimulant collectively. Alternatively, he or she can grow up to three plants privately. People should be allowed to carry up to 25 grams of cannabis with them without being punished. But then there could be more stored at home: the harvest from private cultivation or the amount of up to 50 grams per month given out by the cannabis club. Even driving under the influence of THC should possibly be allowed up to a certain concentration that is still classified as safe. The limit is still zero point zero.
“We want to create an opportunity to legally obtain cannabis,” said Lauterbach, explaining the project. The criminal prosecution of cannabis consumers and dealers has failed. The protection of children and young people is not given in view of the general availability of the drug through the black market. It is also about general health protection, because illegally traded cannabis products are often contaminated or unnecessarily potent. The hope, added Özdemir, “is that the cannabis clubs will create an attractive alternative so that the black market is contained and pushed back.” And: “The black market will be annoyed – if you will – black.”
People like to smile and joke when it comes to cannabis. Özdemir explained the founding of the cannabis club using the example of a potentially interested editorial office in the capital. When Lauterbach admitted to a Dutch reporter that he had been very familiar with Dutch cannabis politics since his student days in Aachen, Özdemir smiled knowingly. Lauterbach explained the apparently still numerous unresolved details as follows: “I want to give you a taste of the fact that we are proceeding with precision.”
No resistance expected from the EU and the Federal Council
The traffic light is pursuing its original plan of creating commercial supply chains and specialist shops to sell cannabis: In addition to the legalization of limited quantities, there will be model regions as part of a second pillar in the future, in which exactly this can be tried out. This is the consequence of “confidential” talks with the EU Commission at the end of last year, said Lauterbach. After that, the original legalization plan was buried and the legalization light now presented was worked out. The five-year model projects are to be evaluated and form the basis for advancing cannabis legalization across Europe.
Lauterbach intends to present a draft law after the parliamentary summer recess. It should bypass the Bundesrat and thus cannot be prevented by the Union. Since the implementation – for example the control of the cannabis clubs – is up to the federal states, resistance is likely. On the other hand, Lauterbach seems certain that the partial legalization of cannabis and the approval of model regions will not fail because of Brussels.
Who is supposed to control all this?
The Federal Republic is thus facing nothing less than a paradigm shift in cannabis policy: anyone of legal age should be given the opportunity to legally possess and consume it. However, there are many question marks as to how this is supposed to work in practice. The cannabis clubs envisaged by Lauterbach and Özdemir would have to be extensively controlled so that the cultivation sites of hundreds to a few thousand plants are safe from third-party access. The quality and delivery only to club members should also be ensured.
Since occasional consumers with their private plants or club memberships are more likely to be exposed to an oversupply, passing it on to familiar people in everyday life is probably more the rule than the exception. The fact that the private cultivation of up to three plants does not endanger children and young people who live in the same household is probably beyond any control in practice. The permitted amounts of possession, which far exceed any reasonable private consumption, should also make it difficult for the police to push back the remaining black market. The fact that somewhere “smells suspiciously” should hardly be a reason for police measures in the future.
The planned pilot project with commercial supply chains raises even more questions. Who should be allowed to grow cannabis where and under what conditions for wholesale sale? Who would want to open a commercial cannabis shop on suspicion when it could all be over in a few years? Which regions are actually interested in becoming a trial region? Especially since they are threatened by a new form of tourism: potheads from other regions who come to shop.
“We will take extensive protective measures against tourism,” says Lauterbach. For example, the maximum permitted sales volume of a business could be linked to the maximum possible consumption volume in a region and thus capped. Özdemir admits that there is a “tension” between the requirements for cannabis clubs and commercial cultivation. If legal cannabis becomes too expensive, the black market remains attractive. The example of Canadian legalization teaches us that.
Where is the FDP?
Other questions are also unresolved: It is disputed whether it is also allowed to be consumed in the cannabis clubs, as is the case in the Spanish ones, for example social clubs allowed is. Lauterbach are also opposed to so-called edibles: cannabis products often sold in the form of gummy bears, cookies or other edibles. These are popular in North America, where smoking is even more frowned upon than in Europe. Özdemir and the MPs involved in the traffic light groups are therefore open to these products with a view to protecting smokers. Lauterbach prefers not to allow them for the sake of child and youth protection.
It was noticeable that no FDP representative was present when the project was presented. The party has actually written the legalization on the flags. Federal Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann excused himself by taking leave and was quoted as saying: “The previous restrictive handling of cannabis in Germany has failed. The ban on cannabis criminalizes countless people, pushes them into criminal structures and ties up immense resources with the law enforcement authorities.”
Özdemir, on the other hand, appeared at the press conference, although the topic does not fall within his department. He was here “also as a representative of a political force,” he said. The Greens apparently calculate that the issue is important to their voters. The FDP seems to be less sure about that.